RISE Worldwide Scholarship – A Love Story

Autumn in Leipzig showed itself from its best side on 24 October 2020. The leaves on the trees were golden in colour and the afternoon sun bathed the city in beautiful soft light when Maria Blöchl and Yunus Sevinchan went for their first walk together as a married couple. 'Our little wedding party with seven guests was very relaxed. We never wanted a big wedding,' says Yunus. 'Of course we would have liked for our friends to be there, but unfortunately this was not possible because of the current COVID-19 situation.'

The couple had decorated its apartment, pushed the tables together and ordered a Turkish breakfast, as Yunus has Turkish roots. 'We also had our favourite cake from our favourite café: carrot cake with lots of whipped cream.' Yunus laughs as Maria confirms: 'The day was exactly as we wanted it to be.'

The two scholarship holders of the RISE Worldwide Programme first met seven years ago, in 2013. The DAAD funding programme arranges for international research internships for German students of natural, life and engineering sciences.

Maria Blöchl studied psychology in Jena at the time. She was in the final year of her bachelor’s programme and looking for a research internship in the area of neuroscience. She applied for a scholarship in the RISE Worldwide Programme, and was thrilled when her application was successful, and she was able to do an internship at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 'My research group was concerned with perception. The olfactory and gustatory system is a vestigial sense that is still under-explored. That was really interesting and fascinating,' she says and points out: 'The RISE Worldwide Programme was a unique opportunity for me to gain research experience abroad. This is something that is not readily available. This research experience and letters of reference were a real bonus when I wrote other applications later on.'

'Helpful for writing my bachelor´s thesis'

Meanwhile, Yunus Sevinchan studied physics in Heidelberg, when he became aware of the programme and applied for an internship in Canada. 'I had just completed my fourth semester at the time. I gained many valuable insights at the University of Toronto, Department of Physics, and I experienced what it means to work in research and in a laboratory. That was really helpful for writing my bachelor´s thesis.'

Following the internships, the closing event for scholarship holders took place in Karlsruhe in November 2013. The long weekend was characterised by many lectures: Presentations held by the scholarship holders, lectures about funding programmes and careers in research. 'There were a number of socials activities as well,' Maria remembers. 'I was interested in the trip to the Center for Art and Media (ZKM Karlsruhe), and so was Yunus. We were a small group and Yunus and I noticed each other right away.' Yunus adds: 'We talked to each other non-stop, also in the evening when we all went out into town.'

Starting point of the relationship

They exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch. 'That night in Karlsruhe we somehow talked about the fact that neither of us had been to Prague before,' says Yunus. 'So in January 2014 we spontaneously booked a joint trip there.' This was the starting point of the relationship, despite the fact that the timing wasn’t exactly perfect for Maria: 'The day after returning from Prague, I left for England for a year and a half. First I had a Leonardo da Vinci Scholarship (now: Erasmus+ Training) from the EU for a six months research internship, and then I did my master's degree in neuroscience in Oxford with a DAAD scholarship.'

During this time, they visited each other frequently. Yunus can remember the many coach journeys vividly. 'The coach to London took eighteen hours, but we were happy to do it.' After returning to Germany, Maria did a two-year master's degree in psychology in Leipzig. Yunus got his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics in Heidelberg. 'In 2017, I finally moved to Leipzig to be with Maria. My doctoral supervisor supported this, luckily. So since starting my doctorate, I have been able to do most of my work for Heidelberg University from home. Nowadays I prefer a more theoretical and conceptional type of work,' he explains.

RISE Programmes

Gaining work experience and getting an insight into a particular research topic: more and more students would like to take advantage of this kind of opportunity. That is why the DAAD’s RISE Worldwide programme (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) has been arranging research internships at accredited higher education institutions and research institutes worldwide for Bachelor’s students from German higher education institutions since 2009 and providing support in the form of a scholarship. The internships last for six to 12 weeks and normally take place in summer during the recess period. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provides around one million euros per year in funding for the programme. Alumni particularly appreciate RISE Worldwide’s digital approach and straightforward procedure – the entire application procedure and the linking of students with internship providers takes place on an online platform.

In the sister programme RISE Germany, research internships are offered at higher education institutions and non-university research institutes in Germany for Bachelor's students from North America, the UK and Ireland. The RISE Professional programme takes this programme further and offers Master’s students and doctoral candidates from these countries internships at German companies or non-university research institutes with close connections to industry.

Doctorates and cooking

They are now officially married and living in an apartment in an old building in the east of Leipzig with their two cats Monti and Rosi. They are both working towards their doctorate. 'I just started working in the area of development psychology in Leipzig once again. Of course, Yunus and I both do a bit of teaching, too, and we really enjoy that,' says Maria. To counteract work-related stress, they enjoy days out, meeting friends and cooking together. 'For example Mercimek Köftesi. That is a Turkish dish of red lentil balls and bulgur,' Yunus explains. They hope that one day they can go on a belated honeymoon.

Maria sums up their story: 'The RISE Worldwide Programme had a significant positive impact on our lives, both professionally and privately.'

Author: Angelika Hesse

Relationships and studies - is it manageable?

Which formative experiences did you make during a scholarship or a closing event? Please share them with others, and tell us about them in the comment section.

December 2020


11 December 2020

Very interesting love story. I had almost similar relationship at the beginning of my carrier.

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